A Fun-Filled Florida Getaway

For as much as I love NYC, sometimes you just need a break from it, especially during a winter as frigid as this one. So I was especially excited to spend President’s Day weekend down South in Jacksonville, visiting my Titi Eneida and cousins Monica and Steven. Joining in the festivities — NY-based cousins Dana and Carla.

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Family Reunion: (from left) Titi Eneida, Dana, Monica and hubby Michael, Carla and me in St. Augustine

Our Florida getaway was perfect from start to finish. Saturday, we drove down to St. Augustine. This charming, historic town (the oldest in the US) never fails to delight with its cobblestone streets lined with quaint shops and Spanish style architecture.

After strolling around and browsing in a few stores, we went to A1A Ale Works for a delightful lunch on the balcony (lobster and shrimp tacos, mmmm). But the weekend’s most memorable, delicious meal happened later at Titi Eneida’s house.

Titi prepared a Valentine’s feast, with a festively decorated table, homemade spinach salad, pizza with sausage and peppers, chocolate cupcakes and chocolate covered strawberries.

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Best Valentine’s Day meal ever!

Sunday, we drove to St. John’s Town Center, a beautiful outdoor mall with 150 stores, where I finally found two major items for my home makeover (details to come!) and savored the sunshine in a cozy seating area outside Nordstrom’s.

Later, after a brief visit to Jax Beach, we went back to Monica and hubby Michael’s place for a laughter filled night watching Saturday Night Live ‘ s epic 40th anniversary special.

I am so happy this family reunion coincided with Valentine’s Day. It reminded how blessed I am to have so much love in my life, and be related to so many wonderful people. And really, that’s what February 14th is truly about: cherishing every kind of love — regardless of your relationship status.

A Wonderful Weekend

For as much as I adore my city and country, there’s another part of the world that has a big piece of my heart – Australia. This weekend, I was reminded of why thanks to a visit from my Aussie friend Dave.

It had been more than 12 years since I last saw Dave, when I stayed with him during a fun-filled visit to Perth in Western Australia.

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My last night in Perth back in ’02: Dave (far right) and me with his friends (from left) Adrian, Michelle and Jason.

The quintessential example of Aussie hospitality, Dave hosted me though our only connection was my best Aussie mate Sue being the wife of his buddy Chris. The trip ended up being one of the highlights of my five month stint as an Australian resident, due in no small part to Dave setting me up with a very charming friend of his.

So when Dave recently sent me a Facebook message that work would be bringing him this way, I was more than delighted to reciprocate his generosity in opening up his home to me – and show him some of my favorite NYC hotspots.

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Dave and me at O’Flanagan’s

Friday night, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at El Porron on the UES, sharing tapas (flank steak empanadas, grilled squid) dessert (vanilla flan) and conversation about family, work and the appreciation of time that comes with getting older. Then, it was off to Irish dive bar O’Flanagan’s for after dinner drinks and the smooth grooves of cover band East Coast. An aspiring Texas-born comedian and his girlfriend added to the fun, as did having the chance to hit the dance floor a few times.

Yesterday, we stopped at Stumptown Coffee in the Ace Hotel before heading over to Barbounia, an equal parts cozy and trendy Greek restaurant in Gramercy, then on to the W Union Square’s lobby bar.

Our last stop of the night was Lillie’s Victorian, a venue rich with the décor that inspires its name and packed with twenty and thirtysomethings. Dave and I were there to celebrate my dear friend Lauren’s birthday, which we did with a lot of laughs and musings about the joys of binge watching (having recently signed up for Netflix at last, it’s something I am attempting to resist).

Catching up with Dave brought back many fond memories of my time Down Under. And made me look forward to the day when, hopefully, I pay the land of Oz another visit!

A Birthday To Remember

When it comes to birthdays, I usually agree with what Oprah says about celebrating them — rock it out. After the fanfare with which I greeted turning 40 last year, though, I enjoyed a quieter but equally festive celebration for my 41st, while being reminded of just how fortunate I truly am.

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Celebrating with my pals Crystal (left) and Sara

Last Saturday, longtime dear friends Sara and Crystal joined me for dinner at Sushi Samba in the West Village. This lively fusion restaurant never fails to disappoint, with its festive vibe and fun menu. In addition to rock shrimp and mouthwatering sushi rolls, we indulged in a decadent dessert duo — chocolate banana cake and s’mores pops.

We talked a lot about new beginnings happening for each of us at the moment. 2015 definitely feels like a year that will continue the fresh start I embarked on in 2014, from my home makeover to taking on a third hotel at work, the fantastic Westin New York At Times Square. The blessing of truly loving what I do is one that I never, ever take for granted.

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My Westin Times Square colleagues surprised me with this delicious tiramisu cake!

Speaking of blessings, my birthday was jam packed with them.

Wednesday began with receiving two beautiful bouquets of flowers, 11 text messages and a flurry of birthday greetings on Facebook. Old friends, new friends and even a few old flames took a moment to wish me a Happy Birthday. After treating myself to a huge vanilla cupcake at Crumbs and my annual spa massage at Bliss 49, I enjoyed dinner at Luna Piena, a longtime favorite Italian restaurant, with my beloved cousin and best friend, Alexandra.

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Alexandra and me

Celebrating with my nearest and dearest, moments of pampering and feeling truly loved — as far as birthdays go, 41 couldn’t have been any more perfect!

A Week of Dining and Redecorating Adventures

When it comes to dining in the Big Apple, my late, wise mom used to say–

“If you want good French food, go to France. If you want good Italian food, go to Italy. If you want good everything, come to New York.”

This week, I was reminded of just how true this is as I had the pleasure of eating out five times (a personal record, I think). Four of those meals were at three favorites: my beloved Beach Cafe, La Fonda Del Sol and Hill Country Barbecue.

The fifth brought me one of the great foodie joys of being a New Yorker — discovering a fantastic new restaurant right at your doorstep.

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Jean Claude II is utterly delightful (photo courtesy: jeanclaudenyc.com)

Tuesday night, my friend Colin and I enjoyed dinner at Jean Claude II, a cozy, charming little French bistro on the UES that I’ve walked past many times. Perfect for quiet conversation, the restaurant also offers warm, attentive service and fabulous food. The escargot, sautéed skate and chocolate mousse are all magnifique.

An effervescent force of nature, Colin and I met through work a few years ago — the company he worked for was producing a photo shoot at The Westin New York Grand Central. But he was already acquainted with me–

“Are you the single gal?” he asked, a reference to my dating blog, SingleGalNYC.com.

We immediately hit it off, as he blew me away with his creativity and extraordinary talent for completely transforming a space.

I am having the great good fortune of tapping into Colin’s expertise as I continue my big home makeover project. After dinner, we spent hours going over every nook and cranny of my place. Thanks to Colin’s suggestions, I have moved some furniture around so my living room already feels like it has been infused with new energy and breathing space.

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The buffet and table pictured here are showcased so much more in this new configuration!

The same could be said of my perspective on other areas of life. I’ve never felt readier or more excited for the fresh start afforded by a new year. Those feelings only grow with each change I make to my abode.

Green accent wall, here I come!

Farewell To 2014

With 2014 drawing to a close, I’m feeling the inevitable wistfulness that accompanies turning the calendar page. It’s been a year of breakthroughs and new beginnings for me — on several fronts.

As always, family and friends were by my side for all of 2014’s milestone moments. From celebrating the big 4-0 in January to making the front page of The New York Times’ travel section in August, my nearest and dearest made the joys sweeter and the sorrows infinitely more bearable.

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Celebrating the big 4-0 with my brothers Ray (left) and Steve

For the first time, I found myself seriously considering a move out of New York. But after multiple trips to potential new hometown L.A., I realized it was a change of perspective and not a change of zip code that I needed. The experience of attending Oprah’s The Life You Want event in September hastened this long overdue mental shift.

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Oprah!

The two-day event at Newark’s Prudential Center offered wisdom and inspiration from Miss O, Rob Bell, Mark Nepo, Elizabeth Gilbert and Iyanla Vanzant. One of the mantras that truly hit a nerve came from Iyanla–

“The life you want is on the other side of the labor pains to birth it.”

That’s when I finally (!) realized I have literally been living in the past. And so began the cathartic process of changing my home from being about my deceased parents to being a reflection of me. Repainting, decluttering and discarding has never felt so good.

Of course, no recap of the last 12 months would be complete without reflecting on my love life. This year, I have been reminded several times that people appear, and in some cases, reappear exactly when they’re supposed to. 2014 gave me the opportunity to make amends and reconnect with two significant others.

Just before Thanksgiving, I was reunited with someone special I dated last year. During a wonderful evening together, we effortlessly picked up right where we left off. I apologized for the times that I wrongfully held him accountable for previous romantic disappointments. As always, he responded with understanding and tenderness – reaffirming for me how fortunate I am to know him.

More recently, I heard from an ex-boyfriend I dated when I was in my twenties and then again briefly nine years ago. He too gave me and taught me so much during the time we were together. He made the most of the connection we had while completely respecting that we were at different stages of life.

When we reconciled back in 2005, I was recovering from a recent breakup and ended up hurting him as a result. I should have reached out to him sooner to say how badly I felt about it. Being the wonderful person he is, he took the initiative instead – giving me the opportunity to express my remorse and reiterate how much I will always value what we’ve shared over the years.

I am ending 2014 exactly where I should be, with a clean slate emotionally and the desire to look forward and not back. Maybe life really does begin at 40.

Happy New Year!

A Season Of New Beginnings

The holiday season is a time for making new memories and cherishing old ones. I’ve been doing a lot of that – especially today. Eight years ago today, my beloved Dad passed away after a lengthy, heroic battle with prostate cancer.

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Dad and me

As I shared in this Father’s Day roundup of paternal wisdom, Dad packed a lot of living into his 90 years. He taught me so much about living life with zest, always seeking to learn and embrace new adventures and loving with an open heart. Which is why I’m so thankful that, for the first time on this anniversary, the sadness I usually feel has been eclipsed with what this time of year is all about: feeling blessed.

This weekend, I welcomed an intimate group of family and friends for my annual holiday party.

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All smiles next to my tree

Along with laughter and some yummy dishes (including homemade vanilla pudding from my late grandpa’s recipe), I shared my home makeover progress: a fresh coat of paint in the bedroom, a completely reconfigured office and framed recent photos replacing the many I had displayed of my parents. If there’s such a thing as feng shui, I’m definitely feeling a lot more of it as this process continues.

Being the wise man that he was, Dad had urged me long ago not to hold on to so many knickknacks from our family home. But letting go of the past – or, at least, honoring it without letting it hold you back – is something that takes time to be ready for. I can think of no better Christmas gift than to know that I am finally in this place of embracing a fresh start.

Today also marks the seventh night of Hanukkah. I could feel Dad’s spirit with me tonight when I lit the menorah.

Rest in peace, Dad.

A Fabulous Night With Fresh 102.7 FM

Earlier this week, I enjoyed a girls night out at two of my favorite NYC venues.

My dear friend Sara and I met up at Pappardella on the Upper West Side. This cozy Italian eatery has long been a neighborhood staple with good reason–delicious, consistent fare and friendly service. We shared a caprese salad (with melt in your mouth fresh mozzarella) then enjoyed one of their signature dishes–pappardelle with wild mushroom ragu, white wine, truffle cream, roasted garlic & basil. Yummm.

After dinner, we walked over to the iconic Beacon Theater on Broadway. The event–Fresh 102.7 FM‘s first ever Winter Jam concert.

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Fresh 102.7 FM’s Kim and Kane

I always start my day with Fresh’s Kim and Kane in the morning. So it was a treat to see them emcee part of the four-hour show, which featured an A-list lineup of pop artists. I’ve attended several radio station concerts over the years; this was far and away one of the best, most well executed productions. And we got to experience it all from fifth row center seats!

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American Authors

The concert kicked off with American Authors, debuting a song from their upcoming second album and powering through “I’m Just A Believer” and “Best Day of My Life.” Spunky family band Echosmith were effervescent fun, closing out their set with “Cool Kids.”

Next up, Gavin DeGraw, who was as irresistible as he was when I saw him at an SPG Moments concert last year. He did older songs from his catalog like “Follow Through” and “I Don’t Wanna Be,” and newer classics like “Sweeter” and “The Best I Ever Had,” ending with his mega-hit “Not Over You.”

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Gavin DeGraw (photo courtesy: Fresh 102.7 FM)

Daughtry performed an acoustic set, including a memorable version of “Home” dedicated to U.S. troops. It was fantastic to hear stripped down versions of “It’s Not Over,” “September,” “Battleship” and one of my all-time favorites, “Waiting For Superman.”

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Daughtry (photo courtesy: Fresh 102.7 FM)

The evening ended on a very high note, with Train. Lead singer Pat Monahan demonstrated why Daughtry raved about him being one of the best pop vocalists today (not to mention, adept at taking selfies with front row audience member phones).

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Train

So many great songs in Train’s catalog, and they performed most of them—including “Cadillac, Cadillac,” “Angel In blue Jeans,” “99 Ways To Say Goodbye” and “Calling All Angels.” They ended their set with breakout hit “Drops of Jupiter.”

A truly amazing night of great music and fun with a dear friend. One that reinforced something I’ve been feeling a lot lately – truly blessed to call this incredible city home.

What I’m thankful for

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I’ve always been a big fan of making time to count your blessings — and having a special day to do that with loved ones never fails to soothe my spirit.

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Family bonding: Me with (from left) my cousins Bruce and Amie, sis-in-law Barb and brother Ray.

In keeping with tradition, I spent the holiday in Delaware with my brother Ray, sister in law Barb and family. As we went around the table and shared what we’re each thankful for, I found myself thinking about how this has truly been a year of breakthroughs and new beginnings for me.

Back in July, I bid farewell to my Single Gal In The City blog after six years. More than a few wise, dear friends had encouraged me to do so and now I know why. Saying goodbye to my ersatz Carrie Bradshaw online persona created room for a seismic shift in my love life and how I approach it. And that change has paved the way for others too.

As I recently mentioned, I am in the process of making over my home to be a reflection of me instead of a shrine to my late, beloved Mom and Dad. It is quite a process, one which has illuminated just how stuck in my grief I’ve been. With each parental knickknack I take down and new self-chosen item that goes up, it feels like another  step toward healing.

Then, of course, there is my job. A job I adore so much that my Facebook friends are probably tired of hearing me rhapsodize about it in my many “why I love my job” posts (I think I’m up to reason #530 approximately). I recently added The Westin New York At Times Square to my Marketing Manager duties for Starwood Hotels.

From my very first day, I could feel the energy and level of excellence that make this such a fantastic hotel. After more than two years with Starwood and being at The Westin New York Grand Central, it’s exciting to now be a part of the WTS team too. This new opportunity reinforces how grateful I am to have a job that I love, in a city that continues to challenge, inspire and reward me in so many ways.

With the holiday season in full swing, I can’t think of a better time to feel truly blessed —both professionally and personally.

Experiencing Parlor & The Joys Of Moving On

Last Saturday, my dear friend Sara and I visited Parlor, a private members-only club in SoHo.

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Parlor in SoHo (photo courtesy: fastlifeluxury.com)

Tucked away behind a private, unmarked door on Spring Street, the exclusive 5,000 square foot venue is – according to the invite I received to try it out — for people who enjoy “making connections, have a love of fine dining, exceptional wines and cultural events.”

Sara and I enjoyed a tasting menu of creations by Chef Hilary Ambrose, a protégé of David Bouley. After a round of scrumptious, creamy pumpkin martinis (in graham cracker-rimmed glasses—mmmm), we enjoyed a three-course meal: smoked avocado puff pastry, couscous salad and pike fish for me, deer chop for Sara and for dessert, espresso-flavored ice cream. Our overall verdict: the portions were small but that was our only complaint. Parlor offers the attentive, first class service you would expect from a club that charges $1500 for annual membership.

Parlor’s low-lit, upscale ambience is very conducive to conversation. Sara and I talked about family, upcoming girls nights out (including a black tie charity event next week) and the importance of being true to yourself — especially when it comes to saying goodbye to people and patterns that are no longer any good for you.

It is, of course, one of the great rewards of being older and wiser; having better instincts about when and how to move on. Some people are only meant to be in our lives briefly. As I shared with Sara, realizing this about someone recently reminded me that everything really does happen for a reason. And that there’s no feeling more exhilarating than taking the positive from an experience and leaving the negative where it belongs, in the past.

I can’t help thinking of one of my favorite sayings, by writer Mary Wollstonecraft: the beginning is always today. I’ve never felt that more or been happier or more excited to live in a city where fresh starts are always around the next bustling corner.

In Celebration Of New Beginnings

Friday, I enjoyed an epic girls night out with my cousin Alexandra. We met up at Grata, one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Midtown East.

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Grata Restaurant (photo courtesy: gratanyc.com)

Attentive service, an enticing menu and cozy atmosphere make Grata a delightful experience every time. We enjoyed mouth watering burrata salad, spaghetti in a light lemon cream sauce and chocolate mousse for dessert. I also discovered the pleasures of French martinis. Mmm.

Alex and I had a lot to catch up on. I told her about my exciting new chapter at work — adding The Westin New York at Times Square to my Marketing Manager duties. She filled me in on what’s new with her and hubby. During our soul soothing four-hour plus conversation, we also covered a lot of emotional ground — reflecting on family, romantic relationships and letting go of the past to make room for new beginnings.

I’ve been working a lot on the latter lately, especially when it comes to my late, beloved parents. For far too long now, I’ve been holding on too tightly to their memory, and surrounding myself with physical reminders of them. After ten years in my home, I am at long last starting the journey of making it a reflection of me now.

Though I will forever and always miss Mom and Dad, grieving daughter is no longer the label I want to have define me. It’s time for a fresh start and looking forward.

Here’s to new beginnings — at work, home and most of all, in the heart.

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